Curry Powder 101

Curry Powder - Every store has it, everyone has heard of it, but what is it? Amazingly, some say it is a Western creation!
Used for centuries in Indian cooking, authentic Indian curry powder is freshly ground each day and can vary dramatically depending on the region and the cook. Curry powder is actually a pulverized blend of up to 20 spices, herbs and seeds. Among those most commonly used are cardamom, chilis, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel seed, fenugreek, mace, nutmeg, red and black pepper, poppy and sesame seeds, saffron, tamarind and turmeric (the latter is what gives curried dishes their characteristic yellow color). Commercial curry powder--which bears little resemblance to the freshly ground blends of India--comes in two basic styles: standard, and the hotter of the two, "Madras" curry powder.

My mother always kept a spice tin handy, with most used common spices stored together. She gave me and my sisters a similar tin when we got married, and I find that it is so useful! When I add spices to my recipes - all I need to do is just grab one tin. Easy Peasy!

The most popular dish, which uses this spice, not only as an ingredient but in the name too - is 'Chicken curry'. A common delicacy in South Asia, East Asia, as well as in the UK and India - A typical Chicken Curry consists of chicken in an onion and tomato based sauce, flavored with ginger, garlic, chillis and a variety of spices, often including cumin, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Chicken curry is sometimes made with a pre-made curry powder which is easily available in Indian Stores and most Grocery Stores. This simplifies the cooking considerably. I use these pre-made powders quite often. Yogurt or coconut milk can be added to both thicken the sauce and combat the spiciness.
In some places the terms Chicken Curry and Curry Chicken are interchangeable. However, in some regions there is a difference between the two terms, even though both dishes include curry and chicken. This difference of naming is purely local.

3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 teaspoon paprika or chilli powder
black pepper powder
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 large potato, cubed (optional)
salt to taste
2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves cut into bite-size pieces
1 large tomato, chopped or1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup plain yogurt (optional)
1/2 lemon, juiced
Fresh chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute onion until lightly browned. Stir in garlic, ginger, tomatoes or tomato paste, bay leaves, and saute for a few minutes. Add potato cubes, curry powder, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper powder, paprika or chilli powder and salt. Continue stirring for 2 minutes. Add chicken pieces and yogurt if using. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes until both chicken and potatoes are done. Remove bay leaves, stir in lemon juice and garnish with cilantro.

Author's note:
Don't stress if you don't have one or more of these spices in your pantry. Chicken curry will taste wonderful even if you skip say, the cinnamon, or the cardamom powder. However, be sure to add an extra tsp. of curry powder to make up for this. Chicken curry is traditionally eaten with rice or rotis, but tastes wonderful with any plain bread, or on pasta too.


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